Recent exhibitions of Middle Eastern art have featured unconventional, non-monumental methodologies in which depictions of war and suppression have taken on different forms of urgency. For Iranian brothers Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and their compatriot Hesam Rahmanian who reside and practice in Dubai, spoof and satire become important tools of dynamism in their first solo exhibition in the United States at the Callicoon Fine Arts, New York. Coming on the heels of Rokni Haerizadeh’s inclusion in the Middle Eastern exhibition, ‘Here and Elsewhere’ (2014) at the New Museum, the show presents both collaborative and individual works by all three artists including their performative video made at a residency in Captiva, Florida, and the trio’s version of Jean Genet’s play ‘The Maids’ that was filmed in Dubai.
Titled ‘I won’t wait for grey hairs and worldly cares to soften my views’, the synergy of their practice that incorporates theatricality and inverts modernist notions of high art is evident from the get go. One is accosted by a playful environment of black and white patterned walls that were painted spontaneously by the artists on their arrival in New York. It sets the stage for an array of works that rely on cheesy excess to debunk one’s expectations of rarefied forms and aesthetics. Their collective sculpture, ‘I Turn, You-Turn’ (2014–15), comes alive from the combination of banal objects that make for a forceful finished product. A svelte female form represented by the sleek legs of a dismembered mannequin dangle from the base of a garden fountain. Her large rubber ball breasts, head consisting of a dried plant, and wide red-rimmed womb-like orifice derived from an earthen pot placed above her legs, stands out for its makeshift quality and simplistic assemblage.
Similarly, in the recreation of ‘The Maids’, shown in the basement of the gallery, the three artists dressed in drag present vignettes of sadomasochism, loosely based on similar rituals of the two housemaids in the play, using household objects from their studio. Relying on camp humor, the overlapping images of the men in compromising positions point towards undermining the hostile and oppressive conditions of their homeland. The notion of artifice and frivolity carries through in their performance ‘O, You People’ (2014), on the Florida coastline. Wearing swine masks, they embrace the environment by literally rubbing themselves against the boardwalk.
The group’s vision seems to emanate from Rokni Haerizadeh’s powerful imagery in which forms culled from Iranian newspaper clippings and television stills mutate into surreal creatures that penetrate the subterranean levels of one’s consciousness. Atavistic and primal, Rokni’s series ‘Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase’ (2013 -14), and ‘But a storm is blowing from paradise’ (2014-15), proliferate with animals and strange critters that assert power through violence, intimidation and brutal force. His pageantry of absurd figures, regardless of whether they appear in his video ‘Letter’ (2014), that takes on the Iranian government, satirise oppression through comical juxtapositions that recall arrests, disruption, and mayhem while diffusing these situations of their political potency and ridiculing authority.
Ramin Haerizadeh’s three-dimensional sepia toned photomontage series ‘First Rain’s Always a Surprise’ (2014), and Hesam Rahmanian’s collages reflect the triumvirate’s focus on disassembling aesthetics that can be unexpectedly appealing. By including works by other artists from their collection such as Etel Adnan and Rose Wylie in the exhibition, the threesome emphasise their process of embracing and seeking inspiration from the artistic community at large while celebrating their own convergence on art that is as lively as it audacious, and as campy as it is challenging.